Chris McBain

Chris McBain, PhD

Chris McBain, PhD, senior investigator in the Section on Cellular and Synaptic Physiology, has been designated as scientific director and director of the NICHD Division of Intramural Research (DIR), after serving in the role as the acting scientific director since 2021.

In this position, Dr. McBain will oversee all intramural research programs, units, and sections of NICHD. He will support the DIR with its objectives to understand the basis of human development and reproduction and to optimize the health of children and women.

The official announcement of Dr. McBain’s designation can be found at the NICHD Newsroom. For a closer look at his professional journey, check out “Get to Know: Chris McBain, PhD.”

As this is a newsletter for and by fellows, we thought it might be fun to tag up with a few fellows from Dr. McBain’s 30 years at NICHD. And who better to reach out to than members of the “Pinky and the Brainslicers,” the McBain lab racing team from the 30th NIH Institute Challenge Relay, held September 19, 2013.

Read on to learn about several post-training career paths and several important lessons gained from time in the McBain lab.

Pinky and the Brainslicers: Where They Are Ten Years Later

The McBain lab relay team wearing pink t-shirts and skullcaps that look like brains

McBain lab "Pinky and the Brainslicers" running team for the NIH relay race, September 19, 2013. From left to right (titles from 2013): Mick Craig (postdoc), Chris McBain, April Johnston (grad student), Libby Barksdale (postdoc), David Collins (postbac).

Mick Craig, PhD

Mick Craig in the lab wearing a formal Scottish kilt outfit

Mick Craig, PhD, attending a graduation ceremony. Photo courtesy of Dr. Craig.

Dr. Mick Craig was a postdoctoral visiting fellow in the McBain lab from 2011–2016. During this time, Dr. Craig studied how inhibitory interneurons coordinate electrical activity in the brain. “If you think about the brain’s electrical activity as music, my research examined how these cells act as the conductor,” Dr. Craig explains.

Today, Dr. Craig is a senior lecturer (the UK equivalent to an associate or tenured professor) at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

“Dr. McBain is a truly outstanding mentor. The most important lesson that I learned from Dr. McBain was that the success of a group leader is not in the amount of grants they get, or the number of papers they publish. Dr. McBain taught me that the success of a PI is measured by the success of their trainees, and if I can look after my people even a fraction as well as Dr. McBain did, then I will have done my job exceptionally well.”

April Johnston, PhD

Headshot of April Johnson wearing a navy blue blouse

April Johnston, PhD, high school biology teacher. Photo courtesy of Dr. Johnston.

Dr. April Johnston worked on her graduate thesis in the McBain lab from 2013–2014 as a visiting graduate student from Karolinska Institute in the NIH Graduate Partnership Program. She studied how activating or silencing serotonin and dopamine receptor subtypes affects a rhythm, called gamma oscillation, in the hippocampus. Today, Dr. Johnston teaches high school biology.

“The most important scientific lesson from the McBain lab: surround yourself with competent, likeable people. Dr. McBain is a brilliant scientist, and he's also really good at finding, recruiting, and retaining good scientists. [He also taught me] to be systematic in your approach to experiments. Try simple experiments first before making your life overly complicated.”

Libby Barksdale, PhD

Libby Barksdale taking a selfie on the beach with sand and surf behind her

Libby Barksdale, PhD, on a run in Michigan. Photo courtesy of Dr. Barksdale.

Dr. Libby Barksdale was a postdoctoral fellow in the McBain lab from 2011–2015. During her studies, she designed and contributed to multiple projects investigating the impacts of altering the excitatory/inhibitory balance in the developing hippocampus on interneuron number and function.

Now, Dr. Barksdale is Director of Regulatory Affairs and Scientific Policy for a lung cancer patient advocacy group called LUNGevity Foundation. There, she works with the FDA, drug companies, clinical investigators, and patients to identify and address challenges affecting cinical trial systems. Dr. Barksdale notes that “it's a pretty far cry from developmental neuroscience, but it's very satisfying!”

“The most important lesson I learned in Dr. McBain's lab was not to be afraid to try something new. I didn't know anything about interneurons when I started and didn't know many of the techniques I would come to use. But sometimes you have to jump in and trust that your training has prepared you to handle the unknown.”

Dr. McBain wearing pink shirt and brain hat as he begins his leg of the relay

Dr. McBain beginning his leg of the NIH Relay Race on September 19, 2013.